Federal Water Tap, February 26: Natural Disasters Prompt Residents of U.S. Island Territories to Move, Census Finds

The Rundown

  • Severe storms pushed people in U.S. island territories in the Pacific and Caribbean to find new homes.
  • The Biden administration releases more federal funds for water infrastructure.
  • An EPA regional office questions a plan to store coal waste at a shuttered power plant in Georgia.
  • A House bill aims to establish a Mississippi River ecosystem protection program.
  • NOAA data shows abysmally low ice coverage on the Great Lakes.

And lastly, a Senate committee this week holds hearings on microplastics in water and the Water Resources Development Act.

“Can you believe that in the United States of America that is still not necessarily guaranteed to all people, to access to clean water?” – Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to highlight the distribution of federal funding for water infrastructure. The Biden administration allocated $5.8 billion to the states from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

By the Numbers

4.9 Percent: Ice coverage on the Great Lakes, as of February 25, according to NOAA. It is abysmally low, but double the coverage from earlier this month, when a new record low was set. Less winter ice on the lakes causes all sorts of problems: more shoreline erosion during storms, a higher chance of lake-effect snow, and loss of recreation opportunities.

News Briefs

Georgia Coal Ash Storage
The head of EPA Region 4 raised concerns about an electric company’s plan to store coal waste at a shuttered coal-fired power plant in northern Georgia, the Georgia Recorder reports.

The letter questioned the company’s plan to cap coal ash pits at Plant Hammond and leave the waste in place. State regulators approved the proposal last year.

Mississippi River Protection Bill
A bill introduced in the House aims to establish a federal ecosystem restoration and protection program for the Mississippi River basin.

The Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative would be modeled after similar federal programs for the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes.

The program office within the EPA would coordinate with federal, state, tribal, and local partners.

Studies and Reports

Island Hopping
The aftermath of a series of severe tropical storms was one of the main factors in people moving away from and within U.S. island territories in the Pacific and Caribbean, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Twenty-seven percent of residents who moved in three Pacific territories – American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam – said they did so because of the disasters resulting from natural hazards like cyclones. The data cover the period 2015 to 2020.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, over the same time period, 41 percent of movers attributed their relocation to weather disasters. The islands were struck in 2017 by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The data comes from a Census Bureau survey in which respondents could choose one of seven reasons for moving. Besides weather disasters, other options included employment, military, family, housing, school, and other.

Weather disasters were the top reason for all islands except American Samoa, where it ranked second.

Decommissioning Oil and Gas Infrastructure
A Government Accountability Office report outlines the environmental risks of improperly decommissioned oil and gas gathering lines – those that move hydrocarbons from wellfield to storage – and how those risks can be mitigated.

Three risks stand out: spills, air pollution, and explosions. To reduce risk: financial assurances (bonds), monitoring, oversight, approved plans.

An estimated 384,000 miles of oil and gas gathering lines stretch across the U.S.

On the Radar

Senate Hearings on Microplastics in Water, WRDA
On February 27, a Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee will hold a hearing on the matter.

The next day the full committee will discuss the 2024 Water Resources Development Act, the biannual legislation that authorizes Army Corps water projects.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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